Thursday, January 22, 2009

Notes and Observations, Post-ELA Exam

The ELA is over! And not a moment too soon. I proctored my good friends in Class B for the exam, which was for the best. The teacher who proctored Class A, who will almost certainly do much better than Class B, has a tougher, less light-hearted persona with the kids than I do. (She is an excellent teacher, and is never “mean”—just not what you’d call “warm and fuzzy.”) I slathered on the praise, the encouragement, the jokes—anything I could think of to help the kids feel relaxed and confident. I must say that, thanks to our awesome testing coordinator and the teachers who helped me with “ELA Exam Boot Camp” during our 37.5 minutes, our particular test went off without a hitch and I think the results will be an improvement over last year. There is one young lady, JJ, who I strongly believe has the potential to leap from a 2 to a 4. She is amazing. She wrote up to the very last second on book 3, and I could see paragraphs and transitional devices and complete sentences in her essay. I am excited for her.

My friend S, along with EE and T, were picked up for their extended time room precisely on time. S and T, who are on ADHD meds (among others in S’s case), looked calm and focused. The individual who took them later told me that they worked assiduously and used most of their time. S and EE are particular concerns because they may not pass 8th grade without the exams, so they need to do well. Without getting into my issues with the idea that all a kid needs to do is pass a test to go to the next grade, regardless of whether or not that child has done the bare minimum to get 65s in a subject all year, I will say that I am pleased that the test went well for them.

I got all my pencils back. Some of you out there in TeacherLand may be interested in learning how I do this. It is a very old teacher trick that I certainly did not invent and I can no longer remember exactly where I picked it up, but you simply do not “give out” pencils; you trade them for 8th graders’ wampum. Generally, what I have when a standardized test starts is something like half a dozen MetroCards, a couple of wallets, a few sets of keys, some random school supplies like dictionaries or very nice pens, and, always, inevitably, a shoe. These items are then exchanged at the test’s conclusion for my nice, unchewed, sharp Staples-brand #2 pencils.

When our testing coordinator came in to drop off our tests, she said to my kids, “Okay, make sure all your little toys are turned off. You know what I mean. Miss Eyre and I are going to pretend we don’t see anything for the next two minutes so you can do that. And don’t just put them on vibrate! TURN THEM OFF!” I dutifully stared at the ceiling while various toys were withdrawn from bookbags and turned off. I appreciate honest individuals like her. We had two perfectly silent days of testing.

One of my students, G, who is, let us say gently, somewhat arrogant for a young man his age, apparently burst into the 7th grade English teacher’s classroom yesterday and informed this individual that he “totally busted a 4 on that exam.” As much as G irks me from time to time, I hope that is true.

I walked around the room this morning, watching my friends finish their Book 3 essays. A few of them, like V and JJ, were not even close to finishing their essays as I called ten minutes, and I began to worry. Yet, as I watched the clock wind down its final minutes, even V and JJ laid down their pencils and closed their booklets. Everyone was quiet. Everyone looked calm. Everyone had finished the essay. And when I collected all the booklets (and the pencils!), I asked them what they thought.

“That was EASY,” GG, who wrote a three-page essay, scoffed.

I hope he’s right.